The Golden Internet Rule

Yesterday on her blog Kristen Lamb spoke about the “three NEVERs” of social media. Without going into too much detail (you can check out her post if you really want to know…it’s a good one!), what the “three NEVERs” basically break down to are “don’t be a jerk to people on the internet because it could come back to bite you in the ass”.

It’s a good point, one that I thought could bear repeating, because so many people are so very, very bad for this. A lot of times it’s unintentional – people say terrible things in the heat of the moment, and social media makes it possible to express those terrible things immediately and to millions of people – but many and more times it’s just people being flat-out jackasses.

The anonymity of the internet gives people a false sense of security in being able to act like a jerk without consequences, but what most people fail to realize is that the internet isn’t as anonymous as it appears. If people really want to, they will track you down, and most of the time we make it very, very easy. How many of us have Facebook accounts, linked to Twitter accounts, linked to personal websites, linked to forum usernames, and so on and so on? And once something is on the internet, it’s pretty much there to stay. Just ask the plethora of celebrities that have tried to have unflattering images cleansed from the world wide web, only to have a billion and one more copies pop up in the blink of an eye.

As kids (I’m looking at you, know-it-all-teens) we can be forgiven a bit of stupidity…we think we know better, and later on we find out we’re wrong and (hopefully) smarten up a bit. But as adults, and professionals, this kind of bad behavior is unforgivable and just plain idiotic.

Recently an old schoolmate of mine posted a status update on Facebook. She’d done an interview on a prospective new hire for her employer, and afterwards went on Facebook to look up the interviewee, as many companies are wont to do these days. What she found was a scathing remark about how the prospective hire had apparently had to dumb down everything he said so the “moron” doing his interview could understand him. What do you think…did she hire him?

It’s a sad truth that people simply don’t think when posting their every thought and whim on the internet. They don’t take two seconds to think about the possible consequences of what they’re about to say. Everyone is guilty of this, even me, but some offenses are much worse than others.

I’ll give a personal example. Though I haven’t been the victim of many trolls or cruel internet japes in my day, I did come across one particular individual during the time I spent at the Critique Circle. This individual seemed to take a deep pleasure in writing scathing critiques of everything he came across. Nothing he read was good enough for him; everything was drivel, pretentious, blatent wish-fulfillment, and so on and so on. Nothing he said was constructive, he simply enjoyed telling everybody he came across how absolutely terrible their writing was in every way. The result? Very simple: no one would critique any of his work. On a site where the entire point is to upload your work and have people beta-read it, he’d ostrasized himself so that no one would touch anything he wrote with a (digital) fifty foot pole.

It all boils down to this: when you’re about to write a Facebook status update, Tweet something, or make a comment on someone’s blog or website, consider for a moment the impression you’re creating and the possible consequences you might incur. You wouldn’t tell an interviewer to their face that you think they’re a drooling moron, so why would you say it online where that same person could easily find it? You wouldn’t tell your editor or publisher that you think everything they do is crap, so why would you say the same thing to people who are supposed to be helping you become a better writer for free?

I’ve heard it said a million times, but rarely do most people seem to listen. None-the-less, I’ll say it again because it needs to be said:

If there’s someone you wouldn’t want reading it, don’t post it on the internet.

Have you ever said or done anything stupid on the internet that you later regretted? Have you ever been in a position to “reward” someone for being stupid on the internet? What are your thoughts on this lovely digital trend of ours? Please share!

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5 thoughts on “The Golden Internet Rule

  1. I have not found myself in a situation where I’ve regretted something I’ve posted, but I agree that it happens all too frequently. Sometimes I think this is a generational problem, and I’m speaking as a millennial myself. We grew up with social media (or for me started in college) and we think that this is real life, real conversation and so anything goes, but I know too many examples of people losing professional opportunities because their social media status updates paint a not so favorable picture. We need to remember that while social media is considered a personal outlet, you need to be presenting a cohesive image that can be applicable to both personal and professional life. Keep your rants and raves for your very close friends – in person – or write it in a journal where the entire world won’t be reading.

  2. Fortunately I grew up before computers were in every household (yes, I’m dating myself, but who else will?), and I remember the days when BBSes were a thing. Anonymity was cherished back then, and it’s a habit that has stuck with me. If I don’t know for sure that the account I’m using is strictly anonymous, I assume that anyone and everyone will be reading what I write. It still comes back to bite me sometimes, but at least I’m ready for it.

  3. Social Media seems to have shifted the mindset and okayed the behaviour that saying exactly what is on our mind is ok.
    People tend to forget that other people are reading our thoughts and we do need to think before posting.
    Thanks for this great post!

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